May 31, 2017

Everyone should learn to ask "are you OK?" and not judge the answer

Suicide is a big word! From seeing it portrayed in the media to reading people’s personal stories, either a family’s experience or the person themselves, it can be scary to even think about. My journey with it began when someone close to me experienced suicidal thoughts, but I never really understood what they were going through at the time, how it could affect someone mentally and physically – feeling so low and wanting to never tell anyone about what you’re going through. But I’ve learned through experience that it’s so important to try to understand others and be there for someone as much as you can if they are going through such dark times.

My own personal experience started three years ago, in 2014, when I was friendless, and though I had family around me, I still felt alone with no-one to talk to. I was at my lowest. But an aspect of my life changed, I moved away from somewhere I didn't want to be. However, I told myself that if I was ever to go back to that place, then it'd be time to end it all, and that I wouldn't be missed.

I went months without going back or it coming up at all, but then suddenly and unexpectedly I was put into a new position, seemingly without any choice in the matter. A couple of weeks later I was back at that place I never wanted to be, my mind racing, becoming ever more dark and without a way out.

My cognitive behavioural therapist asked me have you ever gone so far as to plan where you would go, I said I had but this was before I knew I was to go back to the place I never wanted to be. All this became too much – eventually I broke down had my first ever anxiety attack (without realising it at the time) I revealed my darkest thoughts of suicide.

But the weight hadn't yet been lifted. How could I tell my family I was feeling ever more like a burden? Eventually I told them, and some new friends too. One person thought I only have these thoughts due to the other person in my life having them – I don’t think this was stigma, but a misunderstanding that about how people can be affected by their mental health. Otherwise, every one of the people I spoke with showed their support. It was upon revealing what had been going on in my head that I found what others were like really.

It's also during this dark period in my head that I learnt what my mind is capable of and surely what other people’s minds are capable of, and how not talking to those who matter most to us can lead us to the darkest of mental states. What I have also noticed is how mental health can bring us together at times we wouldn't expect. I am most grateful for the people I have met battling my mental health.

Whoever reads this post I hope would learn not to be quiet when someone is experiencing such thoughts, and to talk to friends if they're acting different. Though I understand not everyone will be understanding of such intense thoughts and emotions, literally everyone from someone you know to a random person on the street should learn to ask "are you ok?" and not judge the answer.

For example, I experienced something unpleasant on the day before my thoughts and anxieties came to a head. I was walking home, I was clearly upset and experiencing a tough time, when a woman passed me by looked me squarely in the face, clearly seeing that I was upset, yet she merely looked at me like I was weird and carried on walking. Whilst it might have been strange to me I would've appreciated her stopping and "asking are you ok?", or at least a smile, instead of the judgemental staring.

My experience with these thoughts has made it clear to me that attitudes towards suicide and suicidal thoughts needs to change, and indeed attitudes around mental health in general need to change. If you have suffered with your mental health or suicidal thoughts don't remain silent. If you know of someone who struggles with their mental health, talk to them and let them know they’re not alone. Then maybe people would remain less silent on this ever pressing matter.

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